Arcana (USA) ROM
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) ROMsGenre: Role-Playing
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Game Description & Reviews:
Arcana is a card-themed RPG created by HAL Labs. It follows the trials and travails of a young Card Master by the name of Rooks in the land of Elemen, as he sets about thwarting the resurrection of an evil Empress. Though the storyline has a few twists, it is not a particularly noteworthy feature of the game.
What is worthy of note is Arcana's gameplay. HAL's title combines a first-person view with turn-based combat with the player having to work out for himself which enemy will strike when. Analyzing this correctly (and thus destroying foes before they attack) enables one to minimize the damage one's characters receive. In addition, different creatures are vulnerable to different elemental attacks; the player can purchase and use cards to launch such attacks.
The most distinctive feature of Arcana, though, are its Card Spirits. Rooks begins with one (and can only use one at a time), and collects others over the course of his adventure. These entities fight alongside him and possess a powerful array of spells, (learning more as Rooks gains levels). Unlike Rooks and other characters, the Card Spirits also regain both health and magic as one traverses the game's dungeons. This is especially important given Arcana's save system, since saving can only be done in town, and one has to retrace one's steps through the dungeon when one revisits it. Thus, the extent to which one manages to preserve and regain a Card Spirit's HP and MP determines, to some extent, how far one can go in a dungeon before one returns to save, (all the more since some Card Spirits can also heal Rooks and other characters). That said, one can also purchase items for restoring health and magic.
Arcana's graphics and interface are commendable. The card theme is widely and nicely applied, with characters, foes and spirits all displayed as playing cards, (though palette swapping is used extensively to differentiate various monsters). The backgrounds are well-drawn, while the animations are pleasing to behold (with different ones for different elemental spells). The game's interface is also very convenient, although there was some room for improvement, (for example, allowing the player to move the map, and flickering the outline signifying which character will be affected by a heal spell).
The game's music is more than apt, but it is the sound effects that truly stand out. Distinct attacks sound distinctly different - so much so that one could probably identify the precise type just from the audio. Movement to and from dungeons, as well as movement up and down floors are also accompanied by very suitable noises.
Arcana is neither a long, nor a difficult game, but by requiring the player to start from the entrance of a dungeon after every save, it can become somewhat tedious. These areas themselves are rather empty - usually containing nothing more than monsters and the occasional treasure: a few more features would have enhanced the experience greatly. Similarly, if defeated monsters dropped items (or at least cards), instead of gold every time, the game could have realized more of its full potential.
Nonetheless, Arcana remains a respectable, simple and straightforward introduction to the world of Card-RPGs.
Arcana tells the story of a young card master named Rooks who is drawn into a quest to save the land of Elemen from certain doom at the hands of the sealed goddess Rimsala. Armed with his blade, his trusty cards, and a host of companions, join Rooks as he crawls through forests and dungeons to discover the secrets and tragedy that awaits the world's last card master.
This title is a fairly standard RPG with a few personal flavors. Levels are explored in the first person, similar to several other more well-known RPGs, and plot progression is quite linear. The majority of this game's uniqueness comes from its use of cards. Contrary to initial impressions, this is not a card game; rather, every enemy and character is represented by a card, the border of which (suite) visually displays its elemental properties. Rooks can also purchase several different varieties of cards to throw at enemies for simulated magic effects, and he can freely summon and swap out various elemental card spirits he'll encounter during the journey. These spirits constantly take up one party slot out of four, leaving Rooks with a maximum of two other character allies at a time.
There are several elements which add to this game's difficulty, ranging from the charming to the frustrating. There are several points where enemy difficulty spikes upward dramatically, usually when entering a new dungeon, and can trap less experienced players into being unable to proceed as the end of every level is a point of no return. Arcana is also notorious for spontanious boss encounters with little to no prior warning, which has been the cause of several party wipes as the death of any character that's not a card spirit is a game over. Some of the spells, specifically the Attribute spells, are also confusing as to what elements they work best against, requiring experimentation and observation.
Not everyone will like this game as it is a fairly standard RPG with a standard story and few elements to make it stand out, but I personally enjoyed this game and encourage other fans of the genre to at least give it a shot.
This wonderful RPG appeared a solid 15 years ahead of its time. Arcana would fit comfortably in the early 2010s, at the peak of digital fantasy TCGs and at the dawn of the grid-crawler revival. Many of its contemporary grid-crawlers used complex and often opaque mechanics and were extremely challenging and capricious. Today's versions are more accessible and intuitive- as is Arcana. The game mechanics and card systems feel simple sometimes but there's enough content and variety to keep fans of both grid-crawlers and TCGs very happy. Highly recommended.
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